Cox Bay Lookout Hike: The Best Panorama On Vancouver Island

Cox Bay Lookout Hike

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The views from Cox Bay Lookout swept us off our feet. It all started with planning a road trip from Nanaimo to Tofino, then falling for Tofino, Cox Bay Beach and the lookout, in this order. Not that the order really matters here.

Tofino is one of the cutest towns in British Columbia, with stunning coastal views and surfing beaches. Cox Bay is only about a ten minutes drive from Tofino, and our first thought when arriving at the beach was: “Were we transported to Australia somehow?” Then the chilly winds and the signs about dangerously cold water temperatures (and the lack of signs about deadly marine stingers) confirmed we were still in British Columbia. And we haven’t even seen the highlight yet.

Cox Bay Lookout, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

So now that you’re all convinced about the necessity of finding this wonderful place and the jaw-dropping, hidden Cox Bay Lookout Trail, let’s see how…

How to get to Cox Bay Beach?

The trail starts from the southern end of Cox Beach. This beach is a popular surfing beach, just ten minutes drive from Tofino along the Pacific Rim Highway. The parking lot is after the turnoff at Maltby Road, and it’s clearly posted. However, parking can be challenging, because the beach is popular. You also need to pay an hourly rate for parking, which encourages people to shorten their visit, I guess.

But no wonder, the beach is full of surfers, dog walkers and families. This 1.5 km patch of fine sand with large waves and unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean is one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve seen in British Columbia.

The parking lot is not directly at the beach. You need to take a short trail to access the southern area of Cox Bay Beach from the Maltby Road parking – which is just perfect for the hike, too. Otherwise, the Cox Bay Beach Resort offers access to the northern area of the beach.

Cox Bay Beach, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Things you wish someone would have told you before

And here I am. Cox Bay Trail is unmarked and not that well-known. It’s a short hike, but the trail is steep and extremely muddy, regardless of when it rained the last time. And when I say extremely muddy, I mean it. We hiked a lot near Vancouver in every season, and I thought I knew what a muddy trail is like, but the Cox Bay Trail introduced a whole new concept of muddy. My boots sank deep into the mud while I half-scrambled upwards, holding onto roots or branches. I stepped into deep puddles, because I found no way to bypass them. Not once or twice, but one after the other. The whole trail is a giant mud puddle.

I’m not saying this to scare you off. I’m saying it so that you take it seriously when I advise you to wear mid-ankle hiking boots on a “short beach trail”. Also, make sure you’re okay with your clothing getting dirty, because that will surely happen.

Some sections of the trail are also overgrown with bushes, so a bit of bushwhacking is required from time to time. Yeah, leave your pretty clothes at home. And leave your baby on the beach. 

Is Cox Bay Trail kid-friendly?

We planned to do this hike with our 2.5-year-old. It’s short, maybe a bit steep, but we thought it’d be okay, we could hold his hand, or carry him in the worst case. Neither of those. We needed both of our hands to hold on to trees and roots from time to time, and carrying a toddler while bushwhacking…

Anyway, Tomi made the decision, because he wanted to stay on the beach to play. So we hiked the trail separately, because it’s a short trail, and as long as a whining toddler is not clinging on to you, it’s a relatively easy and quick hike. Older kids would also agree.

Cox Bay Trail: enjoy an off-the-beaten-path hike

Cox Bay Lookout Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Now that you have the proper clothes, let’s see where to go. Because it’s not at all obvious. It’s not signposted, and multiple trails lead up to the lookout. Walk to the southern end of Cox Bay Beach and look for any opening in the forest that looks like a path. The easiest opening to notice is along a small stream, and you can follow that stream for a while.

Soon you’ll find yourself in a dense forest. The ground is so muddy that sometimes it’s hard to see the trail, and it’s also overgrown with bushes at places. I bet I got lost several times during this short hike. But I always ended up on some of the side trails that rejoined the main trail at some point. Just make sure you go uphill. I was surely not able to find the exact same path on my way back, but all the paths on this hillside take you to the lookout, so don’t worry too much.

There’s no view until you reach the lookout, and honestly, I couldn’t say the trail itself was very enjoyable. I don’t mind a bit of scrambling and bushwhacking, but slipping on mud doesn’t count as adventurous for me, it’s a task to be done. It was done, and I got my reward at the end, and it was so worth it!

Cox Bay Lookout: an epic panorama

Cox Bay Lookout, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Reaching Cox Bay Lookout takes about 30 minutes, and once there, give yourself at least another 30 minutes to enjoy the views. They’re that spectacular!

You get a breathtaking aerial view of Cox Bay and the surrounding beaches, islands and mountains. Once again, I had a flashback from Australia, looking down on the surfers in the wide sandy bays from the Great Ocean Road. But then I realized that regardless of the turquoise surfing beach, this landscape is so typically Canadian. Between the ocean and the mountains lie an endless kingdom of pine trees. To reach the lookout, you need to find your way through the very edge of that dense, wild pine forest.

I saw a woman who hiked up to the lookout with a hammock, and what could I say? It’s an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, even waiting for the sunset. It’s also a great sunset hike, because you can get down in about 20 minutes, just before darkness falls.

Hiking essentials:

  • Trailhead: southern end of Cox Bay Beach
  • Parking: Cox Bay Beach Parking on Maltby Road (paid parking)
  • Length: 2.6 km out-and-back
  • Difficulty: medium (short & very steep trail)

What else to do on Cox Bay Beach?

Cox Bay Beach is one that tempts you to spend some time there, walking in the soft sand, exploring the tide pools at the southern end of the beach and taking pictures from Sunset Point at the northern end. Or pulling a giant seaweed in the sand for several hundred meters – this was the most vivid memory of my 3-year-old, and sure, he seemed to enjoy it. (It seems to me that kids can find a way to enjoy any beach. For any length of time.)

If you spend more time in Tofino, you can take surfing lessons here, too. It’s one of the most popular surfing beaches in the area.

What else to do in Tofino?

Tofino, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Out on the west coast of Vancouver Island, remote and surrounded by nature, Tofino has a unique vibe. Add some surfers walking on the street, restaurants with great views and delicious food, amazing beaches and sunset views, and you get a place you never want to leave, even though there’s not much sightseeing to do here.

Walk in the downtown and the harbor, soak in the Clayoquot Sound views at any time of the day, visit coffee shops and beaches. And set your foot on amazing coastal trails, like the Cox Bay Lookout or…

Other amazing short hikes near Tofino

Tonquin Trail in Tofino

Tonquin Trail, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

No matter how short you are on time, don’t miss Tonquin Trail if you visit Tofino. This path starts from the street and hugs the beautiful coastline, offering coastal and island views, and views of the crashing waves. You can walk down to sandy beaches – Tonquin Beach, Third Beach and Middle Beach – and visit elevated viewpoints. It’s short and easy and so rewarding, there’s no reason not to do it.

Hiking essentials:

  • Trailhead: Tonquin Trailhead at the end of Arnet Road
  • Parking: trailhead parking at the end of the road, or street parking on Arnet Road
  • Length: 3.2 km out-and-back
  • Difficulty: easy

Rainforest Trail in Pacific Rim National Park

Vancouver Island is home to some magnificent old-growth coastal rainforests. The Rainforest Trail gives insights into this lush green, wild and ancient world from an elevated boardwalk. There are actually two trails here, both about 1 km long loops, and they start on different sides of the Pacific Rim Highway. Marvel at the dense vegetation on the ground, the trees that make you feel like walking in a huge cathedral, all the hanging moss and lush green carpets of fern.

Hiking essentials:

  • Trailhead: Rainforest Trailhead along the Pacific Rim Highway
  • Parking: parking lot at the trailhead (Discovery Pass or day ticket required)
  • Length: two loops, 1 km each
  • Difficulty: easy

Long Beach walk

Long Beach, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada

Long Beach is the longest beach on Vancouver Island, stretching for over 16 kilometers. This is not a hike, but you can walk as long as you want here. Also, climb onto the rocky islands that dot the sandy beach area for a more elevated view.

There are two parking lots and daily national park use fees apply in both.

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